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Smith eager to be part of ETSU’s winning tradition

Joe Avento • Jul 4, 2020 at 10:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The world of sports is still kind of crazy thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but Serrel Smith Jr. knows what it will take for things to start getting back to normal.

Get him on a basketball court.

Smith, who is transferring from Maryland to East Tennessee State, said once he finally starts playing basketball and getting to know his new teammates, it’ll feel like nothing ever happened.

Men’s basketball teams are expected to be allowed to start practicing at the end of July. The ETSU players haven’t been together since Jason Shay was hired as head coach. Smith is one of several new faces Shay will have on the team.

“I just can’t wait to get that bond started and get that hard working tradition back rolling,” Smith said. “I feel like building that chemistry and being with the players and coaches, everything will start coming together.

“Things will start feeling normal again.”

The former high school state player of the year in Florida went through a whole new kind of recruiting when he put his name in the transfer portal.

“The process was crazy,” said Smith, a 6-foot-4 combo guard who will have two years of eligibility remaining. “It just took a minute to really process everything. Not being on campus, to be able to see the facilities, to be face to face with the coaches and players and see the environment. You have to see it through a screen. It was kind of hard to process at first.

“I just took it day by day and stretched out the process as long as I could and just prayed on it,” he added.

Smith played just seven minutes a game as a sophomore at Maryland and started looking for other places where he might have more of an opportunity.

When he announced he was leaving, Shay was one of the first coaches to contact him. New ETSU assistant Turner Battle had recruited Smith when he was at UAB.

“The relationship was already there,” Smith said. “So we just made it happen.”

Smith, who said he’s never been to Tennessee, was somewhat familiar with the ETSU program even when he was playing in the Big Ten.

“I’ve heard about them in the past with that winning tradition,” he said. “Anybody who wins, you’re always going to hear about them.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff about the fans and the environment and how crazy it gets in there. I’m excited about that. The past couple of years I have heard about the winning tradition ETSU has and I’m excited to be part of that.”

Smith said he heard from two ETSU players, Patrick Good and Damari Monsanto. Monsanto redshirted last season and is from Smith’s home state. Good, the Bucs’ only returning starter, apparently made quite a sales pitch.

“He gave me his whole background,” Smith said. “He’s a great guy. He’s full of passion and energy. I love it.”

As it stands now, Smith is expected to have to sit out a year before he can play with the Bucs because of the NCAA’s transfer rule. The school is seeking a waiver for Smith and other transfers Ty Brewer and David Sloan to enable them to play immediately.

“I’m good on both,” Smith said. “I would love to play right away. It would be good to get on the court right away. But at the same time, if I do have to take that year and grow and develop and get better, then that’s even better.”

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